WASHINGTON: Members of Congress are split over whether the U.S. should cut off military aid to Egypt, highlighting the difficult choices facing the Obama administration amid spiraling violence on the streets of an important Middle East ally.
Democratic leaders have generally supported the president's approach. But on Sunday, Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison said he would end aid to Egypt. Ellison is the first Muslim elected to Congress.
"I would cut off aid but engage in intense diplomacy in Egypt and in the region to try to say, look, we will restore aid when you stop the bloodshed in the street and set up a path towards democracy that you were on before," Ellison said. "In my mind, there's no way to say that this was not a coup. It is. We should say so. And then follow our own law, which says we cannot fund the coup leaders."
The White House has refused to declare ousted President Mohammed Morsi's removal in early July a coup - a step that would require President Barack Obama to suspend $1.3 billion in annual military aid.
Crackdowns last week left more than 600 people dead and thousands more injured as Morsi supporters protested.
Obama has denounced the violence, canceled joint military exercises scheduled for September and delayed the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets. The president insists that the U.S. stands with Egyptians seeking a democratic government, but he says America cannot determine Egypt's future.
National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said funding for Egypt remains under review.
"As we've made clear, all of our assistance to Egypt is currently under review, and we will consider additional steps as we deem necessary," Hayden said.
Among Republicans, there were growing calls to eliminate military aid to Egypt. But others were more hesitant.
Congressman Pete King said curtailing aid could reduce U.S. influence over Egypt's interim government, which controls access to strategic resources, including the Suez Canal.
"We certainly shouldn't cut off all aid," said King, who chairs the House panel on counterterrorism and intelligence.
Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was democratically elected. But, King said, the group has not demonstrated a commitment to democracy.
"The fact is, there's no good guys there," King said. "But of the two, I think there is more opportunity to protect American interests if we work with the military and continue our relationship with the military."
Sen. John McCain renewed his call Sunday to stop aid as the Egyptian military continues to crack down on protesters seeking Morsi's return.
"For us to sit by and watch this happen is a violation of everything that we stood for," said the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. "We're not sticking with our values."
The military ousted Morsi after millions of Egyptians took to the streets to demand he step down, accusing him of giving the Brotherhood undue influence and failing to implement vital reforms or bolster the ailing economy.
McCain spoke on CNN. King spoke Foxl, and Ellison appeared on ABC.